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Settlement Agreement Evicts Room and Board Fees From Georgia Jail

The Sheriff of Clinch County, Georgia, has agreed to end a decades-long practice of charging pretrial detainees for room and board and to return $27,000 to those who paid the fees over a 4-year period. Also pursuant to the agreement, signed by U.S. District Court Judge Hugh Lawson on April 14, 2006, the County's insurer will pay an additional $30,000 to cover plaintiffs attorney fees and court costs.

In November 2004 the nonprofit Southern Center for Human Rights and the King and Spalding law firm--both based in Atlanta--sued the County on behalf of two men, Willie Williams Jr. and Mickel Jackson. Williams, who spent eight months in the jail, was charged $4,608. He posted bond in June 2004 but was prevented from leaving the jail until he signed a promissory note agreeing to pay $20 a week toward the debt or be reimprisoned. Williams said he paid $140 before the case was settled.

Jackson was charged $1,415 for three months in jail. He was released on bond in April 2004 and ordered to pay $100 per month toward his jail bill. Southern Center attorney Sarah Geraghty told PLN that Jackson paid more than $700 toward the bill, even though the charges against him were dropped.

The class action 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of Georgia, claimed the practice of charging pretrial detainees $18 a day was illegal. Specifically, the lawsuit claimed the practice violated both the U.S. and Georgia constitutions. Its the courts job to impose appropriate punishment after conviction, said Geraghty. Its not the sheriff's job to impose punishment on detainees at the jail. According to the lawsuit, the County has been collecting the fees for 30 years, long before the current sheriff, Winston Stephens, took office.

The case was settled during mediation before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mallon Faircloth. Under the settlement, the County agreed to reimburse all detainees who paid jail fees between November 21, 2000 and November 21, 2004. The reimbursement checks will be made available until April or May 2007.

Williams, against whom charges were also eventually dropped, was to receive $100 under the agreement. Jackson was to receive $718. Their attorney, Sarah Geraghty, was pleased with the outcome. Im really looking forward to delivering the checks, she said. See: Williams v. Clinch County, USDC SD GA, Case No. 7:04-CV-124-HL.

Additional sources: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, AP

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Related legal case

Williams v. Clinch County